Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Tinga Oaxaqueña: Mexican Comfort-Food with a Kick



I'm courting controversy here, because technically the dish should be called tinga poblana, "tinga from Puebla".

(Tinga, btw, means "disorder".)

A lot of traditional wisdom that holds Puebla as the culinary capital of Mexico.

It is the home not only of the tinga, but also of the poblano chile (used in rajas or stuffed to make chiles rellenos and the beloved chiles en nogada) and Mexico's national dish, mole poblano (the famous mole made with chocolate).

Plus lots of other less famous but no less delicious dishes and ingredients.

When you consider that poblano chiles in their dried form end up as chiles anchos (or mulatos, if they ripen to brown instead of red), Puebla's contribution to Mexican cuisine can hardly be overrated.

But for every book, chef or food writer who champions Puebla there is at least one (maybe more) giving the top spot to Oaxaca.

Oaxaca, too, is home to a distinct regional cuisine, including many ingredients that aren't readily available even in other parts of Mexico.

And they have not one but seven moles in a range of colours including black, green, yellow, and two shades of red.

So taking a traditional Pueblan dish and rebranding it as Oaxacan is about as cheeky as making "English" whisky.

The reason I'm tweaking the name of this dish is because I substituted rare pasillas de Oaxaca (purchased from Luchito, the only place to get them in the UK) for the usual chipotles.

Ordinarily, chipotles can trump any other chile in the flavour department, but nothing beats these pasillas de Oaxaca.

Prepping dried chiles does take a bit of work, but of you want to try this at home, you can easily use a tablespoon or two of Gran Luchito salsita de chiles ahumados instead.

A tinga can be made with pork, chicken, vegetables, or a combination. I went with chicken.

As usual with traditional recipes, I had several versions to choose from as a basis. I stayed pretty close to Thomasina Miers's version because she calls for dried chiles, but I added some chorizo to complement the smoky pasillas.

Because I made this in the morning but served it for dinner, I'm going to tell the prep method like a story, but first the

Ingredientes (to serve two)
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 2 white onions
  • 3 pasillas de Oaxaca (or 2-3 tbsp of Gran Luchito) 
  • 1/2 small cone of piloncillo (or 1 tbsp of dark brown sugar)
  •  Mexican oregano
  • Avocado leaves (or bay leaves, but they don't have the same aniseedy flavour) 
So: in the morning I got up, peeled and quartered one onion, and tossed it in a soup pot. Then I bashed six cloves of garlic (one at a time) with the pestle of my molcajete, peeled the skins off, and tossed them in the pot with the onion.

Then I added my two chicken breasts and a great big avocado leaf.

If I had had any, I would have roughly chopped some carrot and celery, but no dice.

Anyway, I covered it all with water, brought it to a boil, and then turned the heat way down and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

These guys are ready to rock and roll.

In the meantime I cut the stems off three pasillas de Oaxaca , pressed them between my fingers to get the seeds out (but not the veins), and soaked them in just-boiled water for ten minutes.

You have to weigh them down with a plate to make sure they all stay covered with water.

If you use Gran Luchito instead of the dried chiles, you get to skip this step.

While the chiles were soaking and the chicken was poaching I heated up a dry frying pan and asar-roasted the tomatoes and the two remaining cloves of garlic. The garlic should be roasted in its skin to prevent burning, and it only needs a few minutes on each side. The tomatoes take longer.

Tomatoes roasted like this are one of the most characteristic flavours of Mexican cooking. They make the finished dish a world away from an Italian tomato sauce.

By now the chiles were ready. Using tongs, I removed them from the water and placed them in a blender jar with the tomatoes, garlic (minus the skins), a teaspoon of Mexican oregano, and two avocado leaves. A few minutes on high and I had a smooth, delicious tomato and chile sauce for my tinga.

By now it read time to take the chicken off the heat and let it cool in the broth. This keeps the chicken moist.

While it was cooling I sliced the remaining onion thin and chef-like because I totally have mad skills like that. In my mind.

I slow-fried the onions in oil for several minutes, until they got nice and translucent. Then I added some diced choizo.

It was Spanish chorizo, as all chorizo in the UK comes from Spain, but I mexed it up a bit by adding some ground chile powder.

When the chorizo was cooked through, I added the tomato and chile sauce, plus the piloncillo, and let it simmer for a few minutes while I shredded the chicken.

I added the shredded chicken to the pan and ladled in the broth I poached it in (which was now a light chicken stock) until their was enough liquid to cover the chicken: not quite 100 mL.

I let this simmer on low for about 15 minutes. Then I turned off the heat, let it cool, covered it, and put it in the fridge, where the flavours matured all the livelong day.

That way when it was time to make dinner, all I had to do was heat the tinga gently on the hob and make some Mexican white rice (arroz blanco).

I used the recipe from A Mexican Cook in Ireland because it includes lots of butter!

Ladle the tinga over the rice, top with some chopped avocado and spring onion y provecho!

Plated up and ready to rock your world.

This dish packs untold depths of flavour, balancing sweetness, acidity (from the tomatoes) and two types of smokiness, plus chile heat.

It's also dead easy to make. The hardest part is actually prepping the chiles, which you can skip if you just use Gran Luchito chile paste.

Also: I say this serves two, but we each got to go back for (eagerly anticipated) seconds.